The central part of Kerala has the most diversity, in terms of both landscape and culture. There are tranquil lakes, including the huge Lake Vembanad, on whose shores you can relax in a waterside home or an idyllic cottage resort. Then there's the historic city of Cochin, a melting-pot harbour spread over a headland and several islands. Here you can discover ancient churches, tasteful shops, Jewish and Portuguese quarters and cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, and stay in stylish and comfortable hideaways such as an elegant mansion or a welcoming homestay. A short way to the north is Trichur, the cultural heart of the region, with festivals and arts courses galore. Or you can check out the stunning coastline while staying at a beach resort. Finally, for the vibrant colours of a traditional boat race, head south to Alleppey, from where you could continue to the south by rice boat (8 hours to Quilon) or by road (150 km to Trivandrum).
Cochin is a rather wonderful and unusual Indian city: it’s small enough to be manageable, yet large enough to be cosmopolitan. It’s also one of the country’s largest ports, with a fishing industry to boot. Here you can dine in style and buy everything from wooden carvings to exotic spices. Cochin features the oldest church in India: the Church of St Francis, built in 1503 by the Portuguese. You can also visit Mattancherry Palace, a 16th-century Dutch building whose interior quad now houses a Hindu temple. And don’t miss the Chinese fishing nets built along the fort’s northern shores - these wooden structures, with their poles, piers, hanging rocks and ladle-like nets, are as gratifying for their careful counterweight-design as for the fish they regularly haul in.
An interconnecting system of lakes, lagoons and canals which link tiny settlements and farms, and which are still used by locals as a sort of aquatic motorway. Lined by swaying palm trees and Chinese fishing nets, cooled by a gentle breeze and studded with water hyacinths, there can be no more relaxing way to travel. If this takes your fancy, the most common cruise routes are between Alleppey and Quilon (8 hours, including lunch, a temple visit and a kathakali demonstration), which is a useful way of linking the central region to the southern beaches; and between Alleppey and Kottalam (4 hours). But it's also possible to travel around Lake Vembanad, and south from Quilon. If you're based in one place or have to return to a hired car, consider a circular ‘village tour’.
Most people come to Alleppey to see the Snakeboat races, also called the Nehru Cup (held in August and repeated in January). Thousands of spectators line the banks of Lake Vembanad to watch brightly-decorated chundan vallam boats being powered through the water by over a hundred rowers shaded by silk umbrellas.